A long time ago a Creationist author concocted a theory that the universe and the Earth has the “appearance of apparent age.” Put more directly, there is this belief that the universe was created to LOOK old, but none of us should be confused: it’s really not old. At least not much older than 6000 years.
Now, this theory I had *thought* went away a long time ago, but I was wrong, and in fact the idea seems to be enjoying a resurgence. This idea seems particularly bad to me, for several reasons. Simply, the proposal is that the reason that everything seems to be millions and billions of years old is because God created everything to look that way, ready made.
As Peter Enns touched on in his fantastic post on this topic, the world isn’t just OLD, it’s is evolved. (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2011/10/al-mohlers-theory-of-apparent-age-two-more-problems )
I’ll flesh that out just a little bit more. The photo of the abandoned rusty car at the top shows a car that is definitely old, but it doesn’t stop there: it has grass or something growing on top of it. It has rust on the sides of it. It has leaves piled up on it. Thus, we can see that this car has been here a long time, not just because the car itself is old, but because of other processes that have been occurring to it. It has to have been in that spot at least long enough for the leaves to accumulate, for the grass to grow.
And that’s the way it is on Earth: we don’t just see things that are dated as OLD, but we see things that have come and gone dependant on other things. We see layers of rocks, and layers of ice in ice cores. The layers of ice in cores correspond to things like layers of ash and amount of other volcanic gases from known volcanic eruptions of the past, buried in soils. We see cities that are buried, with new cities built on top of them, that are also buried. Did God also create civilizations and bury them too, making them look older than they are, just to fool us? It isn’t all about rock layers and fossils, you know. Archaeologists have things to say about age as well. And what about genetics? Did you know that you can compare your DNA to another persons’, and after studying millions of people, we can extrapolate how many generations back you and that person, within a certain measure of probability, had a common ancestor? Creationists might balk at the “standard rate of mutuation” if they want something to argue about on this level, but when you look at large populations of people and can start to calculate how long ago different groups migrated, the evidence becomes a lot harder to dismiss outright.
But the issue is a lot more important than just “whether or not God could have made everything look old and evolved” if He wanted to. For a Bible believing Christian, I think the real issue is: What would such a thing say about God’s character? Here’s the relevant verse to consider:
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature,have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20, ESV)
So here’s the question: what do we learn about God’s eternal power and divine nature from the “things which have been made,” if God made everything look a certain age to throw us off? In other words, what the creation “looks like” is not a neutral facet of God’s design: it says something about the Creator! If the creation was made INTENTIONALLY to look old, then yes, we might see that God is very powerful, but what would it say about His nature? That He’s a trickster? I’d hate to go down that road.
Ok, so what if God’s creation looks old because it really IS old, what does that tell us about His eternal power and divine nature? It would tell us that He takes a more behind-the-scenes approach, certainly…that He as the one who started the ball rolling (we can see SOMETHING big happened, certainly) generally causes His touches and nudges on the process to be so discreet that His hand can be hard to trace, like atoms blowing in the Wind – that He is discreet even in the midst of such a powerful display of His glorious masterpiece of energy and matter dancing together ingeniously. We learn that His nature is Spirit; that He is invisible to the eye of the “stuff” of this Creation most of the time, and that He is hidden: but that in hiding, He is also honest – there is no deception afoot. We learn that He most often prefers to manuever from WITHIN his Creation, rather than from without, in a way that we see mostly as chance, and randomness, and the probabilities and chaos built into the system as part of its very inception.
What do we learn from all that? If God prefers to manuever His doings from WITHIN His system, rather than from without, it makes the Incarnation that much more plausible. The scandal that it is to think that God would be a lowly human at some time or place, is no more or less lowly than thinking He works through random chance to answer prayers in ways that often seem like things just “worked out” in lucky ways. There is a cogent seamlessness to the whole thing, if we dare perceive it. The only real exceptions we tend to see to Him working things out from “within” the system is when He is working from “within” His people (which is just another system of His that He works within.) Herein is the God who dreams like this:
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God ,and they shall be my people.” 2 Corinthians 6:16 ESV
He’s always wanting to be hidden IN some facet of His creation, and that extends most acutely to His human friends. But aside from rare supernatural occurences, which seem to only occur when wielded by those who have offered themselves as a facet of Creation for God to move within, God is generally relatively a behind-the-scenes sort of God. Ah yes, but why would God be so discreet? Honestly, I’m not really sure. Except that the hiddenness of God is a “God thing” as we like to say, and it’s all over the Bible. Most notably, it’s the number one reason given for why Jesus often spoke in parables. I’ve heard people preach that there are parables in the Bible because stories get at our emotions and heart faster than outright explanations of things, and to be certain it is true that stories can do this, but this isn’t the reason the Bible repeats over and over for Jesus’s use of parables and storytelling. Rather, and strangely enough, the reason is to obscure secrets from those not ready to know them:
He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ (Luke 8:10, ESV)
Obscuring something is different however than outrightly trying to deceive. If I tell you a riddle, it is different than me telling you a lie. I know however that people will still persist in believing that God created the Earth with apparent age, and this begs one final question. If it is so easy to believe that God could create the Earth to look old when it is really young, then why is it so hard to consider that God may have an inspired the writing of Genesis to look like it is literal history when it is really allegory? After all – Jesus is the image and representation of God (at least, if you are a Christian of some ilk you believe that.) If God showed through Jesus that one of His prefered ways to conceal things was in parables, why would we believe He had a different way of concealing His works when He created the world? I think rather, and for many other textual reasons, I’d venture that the greater likihood, according to God’s nature and His testimony IN nature, is that Genesis itself is mythologized history and spiritual parable.